Over the past 20 years, I’ve bought four houses. While I’ve definitely become a more savvy home buyer over time, the process of buying the right house doesn’t get any easier. Finding the perfect new home can be stressful, especially if you need to stay within a budget and have a long wish list.
It’s ok to be picky. A house is a big purchase, maybe the most expensive one in your life to date. With this said, if you’re buying your first house and caught up in a frenzy of weekend open houses, how do you know you’ve found the right one for you? Speaking from experience, there is no magic formula. There are, however, ways to cut through the clutter.
To help you find your perfect first home, answer these three questions: Do you trust your instincts about the house? Can you readily afford to live here? And, does the house suit your current lifestyle? If you answered ‘yes’ to all three, you’ll be off to the races when it comes to finding the right house. Let’s take a closer look.
1. Do you trust your gut?
Whether it’s the first open house you’ve ever attended or the 50th home you’ve walked into, pay attention to your immediate gut reaction. If the house meets your wish list, but you are still trying to convince yourself to put in an offer the next day, it’s probably not the right house for you. Yet, if you experience love at first sight and the house seems too perfect in every way, don’t second guess yourself (unless a subsequent home inspection down the line reveals too many imperfections to get past). I’ve been in both situations and I ultimately ended up deferring to my gut emotional reaction to help finalize my decision. On a side note, my current house was not the first house I put a bid on. I had an accepted offer on another house that was everything I was looking for - on paper, that is. Yet, as the days went on, I recognized that I wasn’t excited about this house. Something didn’t feel right. I listened to my instinct and we backed out of the deal. The very next house I walked into was the one I married, so to speak. I paid attention to my gut and we bought the house.
2. Is the price really right?
Before you jump to answer ‘yes’ to the address, make sure you’ve considered the full range of costs and expenses associated with buying the house you love. For example, you may be able to afford a down payment and the monthly mortgage payments, but what about the taxes and homeowners insurance, or even condo fees and HOA costs? Taxes can vary markedly depending on the state, county, and city where the house is located. For example, the property taxes on the house I just sold were almost double what I now pay on my current house. Why? My old house was located in a town with a highly-ranked public school district and the majority of the taxes paid by homeowners were fed into the schools. The house I live in now is located in Boston where homeowner property taxes are offset by an abundance of commercial tax payers. Other costs to consider: Utilities and ongoing maintenance and repairs. Before you buy what looks to be the perfect house, be sure to look at the full financial picture. Once you’ve done this and can afford that house, then maybe it’s time to bust a move.
3. Does the house fit your current lifestyle?
Many first-time buyers set out to purchase a house that they think will suit them in five or ten years. Other times, they like a house but it doesn’t quite fit their lifestyle needs. For example, if you don’t have children, do you really want to buy a five-bedroom house in a suburb 45 minutes outside of the city center? Or, if you cook and entertain all the time and the house you’re considering has a tiny galley kitchen with no elbow room, is this going to give you enough space to cook and serve big meals? The key here is: Imagine yourself living in the house and in the neighborhood right now. Is this where you truly would feel at home?
On a final note, keep in mind that your first home purchase is rarely your last. As your life evolves, so will your home buying needs and lifestyle.Take it from me: I’ve said yes to the address four times and each house was the right fit for me.